“It gives me great pleasure to release the political biography of NTR entitled Maverick Messiah, authored by senior journalist, Ramesh Kandula, here today.
NandamuriTaraka Rama Rao (1923–96) was not just a film star who challenged the mighty ruling party and knocked out the one-party rule in Andhra Pradesh but had redefined the political culture in the region and scripted a new political idiom.
In South Indian politics, NTR had succeeded in occupying a high seat in the company of leaders like EMSNamboodiripad, Annadurai, PuchhalapalliSundaraiah Karunanidhi, MGR and Smt. Jayalalithhaa.
Some others may have been in power for a longer time than NTR but going by the imprint left behind them, NTR certainly carved a place for himself both in regional and national politics.
NTR ranks among the top pioneers of ‘alternative politics’ in our country. He rose to the occasion when the people of the united Andhra Pradesh were deeply yearning for a change and a new political idiom.
His entry into politics and his ‘dramatic’ success within about 9 months of floating a regional party gave a new direction to national politics. In one sense, he led the second wave of emergence and consolidation of regional parties.
His sub-nationalism was constructive, and his identity politics was devoid of parochial undertones. His brand of regionalism celebrated the pluralistic idea of India. A patriot to the core, NTR proudly wore his Telugu identity on his saffron sleeve, but without privileging it over other identities.
An outsider to the political establishment, NTR displayed an instinct for political mobilization. The political landscape underwent a profound change after NTR’s arrival on the scene. Power, in NTR’s case, was truly drawn from the people.
However, his rather dramatic entry into politics, the profound impact he left on the people of AP and the vital role he played in national politics during his relatively short political life have not received due recognition.
His fight for strengthening the federal character of our Constitution and the emphasis he laid on the welfare role of the government remains relevant in today’s India when regional aspirations are on the rise.
NTR was a man of fascinating contradictions. He was a commanding personality but resorted to baffling theatrics and bewildering sartorial predilections. He was considered orthodox by many, but he displayed radical tendencies that caused a furore in the establishment. Though outwardly religious, he was staunchly secular. A leader who fought on the plank of regional aspirations, he remained a committed nationalist throughout.
A man of no known ideological persuasion, he was able to come up with his own brand of populism and a clearly enunciated doctrine on Centre-state relations.
A fighter to the core, NTR liked to punch above his weight. His contribution to the cause of Opposition unity at the national level was a pioneering effort, and NTR would have played a more substantial role as the National Front chairman in the 1990s but for a quirk of fate.
He was one the most colourful personalities in the drab world of politics. The element of drama was deeply embedded in his rather momentous life. In his last days, the personal and political lives got merged in an unusual mix, resulting in a tempestuous climax that has few parallels in modern Indian politics.
During the course of my eventful political journey I have met many a distinguished individual with exceptional accomplishments to his or her credit. Among them was the inimitable NandamuriTarakarama Rao.
As an actor, he was a legend in his lifetime, well before he made his foray into politics. It is universally acknowledged that no other film actor could essay a role from our Puranas—as varying as those of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Arjuna, Karna, Duryodhana or Ravana, for example, with the grace, ease, felicity and depth that NTR could lend to the performance. He had come to be seen by the millions as divine incarnate….there used to be no household without a calendar with the picture of NTR either as Rama or Krishna…he was so much an integral part of the lives of the people for a long period.
As an actor, NTR was the darling of the masses. People’s love and admiration for NTR paid him rich dividends when he plunged into public life as a politician promising a new order.
As numerouno (number one) in films, he was the master of all that he did and spoke. But it was not such a smooth sailing for him in politics. Public life has different scripts to go by and it is a mine field. NTR realized it soon after becoming the Chief Minister.
NTR’s life cannot be properly understood without understanding his long stint in films, the making of his mind and personality during those long years, the values, perspectives and the world view that he acquired during those long years.
He was a strong personality, a strict disciplinarian, straight forward, honest and an orthodox person before he entered politics. Public life is marked by shifting positions, accommodation and compromises, keeping aside personal interest over the larger interest. NTR faced this cultural shock as CM. Given his personality built over the years, NTR could not come to terms with the new world he chose to enter. It haunted him all through his political journey.
The setbacks that NTR had to face as a politician did not diminish his stature. His unconstitutional removal from the office of Chief Minister in 1984 and his forced restitution enhanced his stature.
NTR led his party in four elections in the State and won thrice. In all the three victories, NTR won more seats than in the previous elections and it was more than 200 of the 295 seats every time. This is a marvellous political feat difficult to match.
NTR and I shared a very special bond cemented by mutual trust. 1983 was a tumultuous year in AP politics. It was the year that NTR marched into political limelight and stormed to power scoring a spectacular victory at the hustings, after founding the Telugu Desam Party. As the BJP nominee from Udayagiri constituency seeking re-election, I was among the few candidates who could withstand the TDP tsunami led by NTR. The period marks a rich slice of history and as an active participant in some of the important events which unfolded at the time, I was witness to the dynamics of power play which have been recounted here in this political biography of the actor-turned-politician titled, Maverick Messiah.
Ramesh Kandula uses the prefix maverick for NTR, a term used by many to describe the rebellious nonconformist in politics—indeed NTR saw himself as a messiah who could transform the socio-political landscape in Andhra Pradesh and beyond. He was not without his minor eccentricities and whims, but once he committed himself to the cause of public life, there was no looking back for NTR.
In 1983, I saw him campaign tirelessly in his refurbished van, Chaitanya Ratham, his oratory in chaste Telugu on display, as he cast a spell on large crowds wherever he went. Undeterred by heat and dust as his Chaitanya Ratham went hurtling through the length and breadth of Andhra Pradesh, NTR’s dedication to his cause was absolute and unwavering. Sure enough, success smiled on him as he single-handedly charioted his party to a stunning victory.
When NTR was dethroned in 1984, in what was one of the darkest episodes in the tradition of our democracy, I was in the front ranks of those who stood by him in a movement which we launched and which gained widespread popular support, under the rubric of Save Democracy. I do not wish to dwell much on this sordid saga beyond saying that seventeen opposition parties in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh came together under the Save Democracy movement after the unjustifiable dismissal of the NTR government. My good friend, the late S. Jaipal Reddy, who was then in the Janata Party and myself, as young opposition legislators, were at the forefront of the campaign to restore the democratically-elected government. To give due credit to NTR, he was beholden to us and went to the extent of offering us cabinet berths which we politely declined, explaining to him that it was a matter of compelling conviction which made us stand firmly by him during a grave constitutional crisis.
Ramesh Kandula traces NTR’s short, but eventful political career in this gripping narrative and as I turned each page, many scenes of the time flashed on my mind’s screen. The biographer evokes the sense of the period, which is imprinted in my mind, in a facile and vivid manner, with an assured hand. The book charts the course of some of the biggest upheavals in recent AP politics objectively and with the insight of a seasoned observer. As someone who was closely involved with NTR during some of the most tumultuous days of his political stint, I can say that the author, as a political biographer, has been accurate and neutral in his depiction of events. His deft narration, with a sharp attention to detail, recreates the dramatic tension which underpinned some of the turbulent incidents portrayed here.
In politics, NTR, was a phenomenon, as much as he was in the field of cinema. He strode the political stage like a colossus, living entirely by his terms. As I saw him, NTR was essentially well-intentioned and good at heart. His entry into politics was not driven by a self-serving lust for power and much less by envy or overvaulting ambition. He was labelled as self-righteous by some, when, he was in truth, sincere in his intentions. From my multiple interactions with him, I could gauge that he was earnest in his passion to serve the underprivileged and root out corruption. True to his intentions, he launched a number of pro-poor welfare schemes during his reign. Though he was seen as a novice in politics and public life, he created a sensation in the national scene by upstaging an entrenched party in its citadel for the first time.
NTR as Chief Minister pioneered radical and far reaching legislative and administrative initiatives which transformed NTR, an orthodox actor into an unorthodox politician. His first legislative initiative was the Upa-Lok Pal Act demonstrating his keenness to end corruption that was eating into the vitals of the society and the state. He empowered women with property rights and political representation and introduced reservations for BCs in ZillaParishads.. His 2 rupees a-kilo rice turned out to be the front-runner in welfarism.
NTR emerged as an effective defender of federalism and regional aspirations given the dent they suffered under single party dominance in the country for a long period. He was making a point and a case for a proper balance between the powers of the States and the Centre.
One lesser known and not adequately understood aspect of NTR’s personality was his ‘Indianness’. He was a great admirer of the legacy of the values, customs and philosophy of our country—this is the ‘nationalism’ being talked about in the current discourse in our country. NTR imbibed the range and power of these Indian values, culture and philosophy during his deep study of our mythological roles he had played with aplomb.
There were several facets to NTR’s personality—apart from being a celebrated star and later, a successful politician, he was a devoted husband and a caring father. At a personal level, NTR and I shared a common love for Telugu language and literature, as also an abiding interest in our scriptures and rich cultural traditions. NTR’s legacy is not just a matter for political historians—his wholesome humanity, candour, earnestness, exemplary discipline and fearless devotion to the cause he espoused are attributes worth emulating.
Some may have adversely commented about NTR when he chose to dress himself like Swami Vivekananda. But in my view, it was his way of making a statement about the depth and the power of the thoughts and ideas of Vivekananda and guide people in that direction.
NTR made a huge contribution to the cause of Telugu language. It was evident in the way people learnt and memorized NTR’s dialogues as Suyodhana in the film Dana Veera Sura Karna. It was the case in respect of many of his roles and attendant dialogues. With his perfect diction and the power of pause and punctuation, he took our mother tongue Telugu close to the hearts of the people. People used to be under the thrall of his dialogues.
“Vacchindanna….Vacchhadanna …mana Telugu bhasha okatenanna” was a famous song of NTR speaking for the unity of Telugu people. What magnetic words?
NTR’s contribution to restore the ‘self-respect’ of Telugu people in modern Indian history will be remembered forever. He was instrumental in getting Telugu people their own identity and space in the national space.
I don’t agree with the view that NTR was a complex person. He was a clear headed and straightforward person. If there was one deficiency in NTR, it was his stubborn refusal to make compromises. May be it was too late and too difficult to change for him in the realm of politics of power.
NTR ruled the hearts of Telugu people both as an actor and a politician. And he will continue to be in the hearts of the Telugu people for long.
NTR’s life would make a good subject for a serious study of interplay of the mind and matter both from psychological and socio-economic perspectives.
I hope this book being released today by the title “Maverick Messiah” would help in such exploration of the multi-faceted NTR as it captures different facets of the actor-politician in all their richness.
Millions of his admirers pinned hopes on him and NTR did not let them down. He walked a great distance to live up to the expectations of the people. If the full distance was not covered, it was because he was NTR and he lived that way. The distance not covered highlights the one he covered as only NTR could have done that much in the time given to him. It is for others to cover the uncovered distance.
I have known Kandula Ramesh for long and I compliment him for his efforts to make NTR known to many including those who have seen him in action for long and those who did not have that opportunity.
Ramesh Kandula’s political biography captures different facets of NTR’s personality in all their multi-fold hues and puts in perspective the significant contribution of the actor-politician to the ever-changing Indian political tapestry. It lends an edifying insight into these extraordinary dimensions of NTR’s remarkable personality.